Sport / Rugby

Heinz Schenk
3 minute read
18 Aug 2018
8:18 am

Four things to look out for in the Durban Test

Heinz Schenk

The Springboks are back in action but they open their Rugby Championship campaign with a fair amount of uncertainties.

Willie le Roux of South Africa during the South African national rugby team captains run at Jonsson Kings Park on August 17, 2018 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images)

The Springboks’ latest adventure under Rassie Erasmus commences on Saturday when they open their Rugby Championship campaign against Argentina in Durban.

A series victory over England has raised hopes that the national team can finally dig their way out of three years of under-achievement but it’s perhaps better to keep expectations in check as the Boks have only won two from four in 2018.

Here’s what to look out for at King’s Park.

The athletic but unfamiliar loose trio

In June, there was clearly a premium on ball-hugging bruisers when it came to Erasmus’ flankers as Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit and skipper Siya Kolisi were picked as combination to dominate the collisions.

Vermeulen’s absence and the nature of the Boks’ opponents for the next two months or so have changed that picture.

Francois Louw’s vast experience as a breakdown specialist is being employed while Kolisi moves to a position many feel is his best fit.

Warren Whiteley is back as a linking No 8 in the classical mould but there will be scepticism from some quarters.

The trio have never played with each other and there’s a sense that they do lack some collective physicality.

Yet that shouldn’t be too much of a problem with the added bulk of Malcolm Marx and Eben Etzebeth back.

Damian Willemse could already show he’s worth the hype

South African rugby has been down this road before – a young messiah-like playmaker that will become a superstar and spearhead the mighty Boks in future.

We’ve had Frans Steyn and Pat Lambie … and many will point out both those men’s international achievements feel a bit unfulfilled.

The latest candidate is 20-year-old Damian Willemse.

The 20-year-old Stormers flyhalf is being groomed as a fullback with the World Cup in mind and is already burdened with significant expectations.

However, Erasmus is not wrong when he says that Willemse is precocious because, at this young age, his body is ready for Test rugby.

He’s indeed a strapping young man who’s handled the challenges thrown at him at Super Rugby level this year.

A measured introduction could really add value to the Bok product.

Nienaber’s wizardry needs to start paying off

Erasmus and his confidante Jacques Nienaber come as a package deal for years now.

The Bok mentor trusts his defence guru’s insights implicitly and he’s certainly built himself a reputation as a authority in his portfolio.

South Africa’s defensive structure has been a major weakness for the past two years and looked distinctly wobbly at times against England.

It won’t get any easier and the Boks need to show tangible progress in this regard.

Defence wins you World Cups.

Will the Etzebeth gamble be worth it?

Eben Etzebeth is a world class player, no doubt.

But there’s always some reservations when a player is shuffled right back into a national side without any meaningful competitive action under his belt.

The 26-year-old lock will be fresh, of that there’s no doubt but is his selection fair on the others in the group.

It’s understandable if players in positions that don’t have depth – in this context fullback and scrumhalf – are wrapped in cotton wool.

Yet there’s enviable depth at lock for the Boks.

Didn’t a Marvin Orie, Franco Mostert or RG Snyman deserve a starting spot, with Etzebeth on the bench?

For more sport your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.